Remarks by John Murphy, chair of the board of Salmon Watch Ireland CLG, to the company’s annual general meeting on Monday 19th June 2023.
Welcome to Salmon Watch Ireland’s AGM for 2022 being conducted by Zoom. This meeting is primarily held to conform with our obligations under the Companies Act.
2022 was a year primarily dominated by our impending Judicial Review on the decision to award an aquaculture licence to MOWI in Bantry Bay. Having taken the decision to enter into this legal process it was necessary to devote a considerable amount of time to research our main avenues of approach to the legal process. I would like to thank all our directors and indeed our members and supporters who helped to prepare and support us both financially and with advice which enabled us to pursue this case. The Judicial Review took place over four weeks in April /May 2023, and we expect an outcome in the near future.
The 2022 salmon run in Ireland was extremely poor with regard to grilse, but spring salmon runs appeared to be on an upward turn although from a low stock level. The low level of grilse last year did manifest as a very poor reported spring salmon stock this year with anecdotal evidence suggesting a collapse in the majority of fisheries both here and the United Kingdom. Generally speaking, this may be related to the abnormally low river levels which greeted the adult stocks here and UK in 2018. This was also mentioned by the ICES working group on North Atlantic salmon and seems to be a recurring theme with the summer of 2022 experiencing very low water levels. Again, there is no need to mention this year as the trend continues. On a more positive note, the early spring this year did favour a more positive environment for smolt migration. These fish are the progeny of the 2020 run of adults which showed a very welcome upturn in stocks. The IFI fish counter data is indicative of an increased run of spring fish in 2022 but a large decline in grilse stocks and is probably at an all-time low when looked at over an extended period.
It is evident that climate is causing a very poor environment for Atlantic salmon and these periods of low flow in conjunction with high water temperatures cause a cascade of effects with predation and biological factors having a significant negative effect on juvenile and adult survival. In conjunction with the pressures at sea it is evident that the future is far from secure. While most of these factors may be out of our control, we must continue to endeavour to maximise the amount of wild healthy smolts going to sea. It is interesting to note that a recent study in the UK noted that larger smolts survived to return at three times the rate of smaller smolts. Again, with a warming climate, can we expect larger wild smolts, I would suggest not.
The publication of the state of Irish waters by the EPA for 2022 notes little improvement in regard to nitrate levels in Irelands rivers and lakes and is a major concern for salmon survival. It is evident that the farming community are engaged in a political agenda with little concern for climate or indeed the wider environment. Unfortunately, the vote on the recent legislative change at EU level in regard to protecting degraded land was postponed for one month which is disappointing but demonstrates that there is a considerable opposition to protecting nature which is all too evident within this country. With changing weather patterns, we are seeing a very substantial reduction in rainfall during critical periods for salmonid migration which only exacerbates an already precarious situation.
In early 2022 we sought through FOI correspondence between Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister Charlie Mc Conalogue regarding sea lice and their impact on wild salmonids. This was further illuminated by the Irish Times in August and a special segment on Prime Time followed in October. It is very significant in that a government department was willing to take on DAFM regarding their rather benign interpretation of the impact that salmon farming has on wild salmonid stocks. IFI were very robust on the Prime-Time program which is a welcome departure from previous pronouncements on the subject. This was further demonstrated with their participation in the Judicial Review.
There appears to be a more proactive approach from IFI and there is further evidence that they are ramping up pressure with the recent job advertisement looking for a project manager to investigate nationwide introgression from farm escapees. These developments may have a bearing on future JR procedures.
Mark Boyden from the Coomhola Salmon Trust was the recipient of our Salmon Hero Award in 2022. Mark has been at the forefront of educating Irelands school children on salmon matters for the best part of 30 years. He was most appreciative of our efforts to conserve Atlantic salmon.
We did not hold a conference in 2022 but hope to hold one in 2023.
Our focus has somewhat been overwhelmed by the judicial review process but we would hope to concentrate more on other issues going forward.
The issue of commercial exploitation of salmon is causing a serious amount of controversy and our policy to effectively finish this practice must be revitalised. It is not an attempt to change the location where salmon are harvested as we also would like to limit exploitation by recreational anglers. The ability to harvest ten salmon by anglers is certainly not sustainable from a moral point of view and should be reduced significantly.
It would be our intention to seek a redesign of the management of our salmon stocks with a review of conservation limits and surplus determination. It may be time now to increase the statistical probability of 75% of reaching a conservation limit to a higher number thus taking a more precautionary approach in these volatile times for salmon survival.
On the aquaculture front we will continue to oppose open cage farming and intend to design a template for publication which will allow all to oppose licences in a concerted, legal and scientific manner.
With stocks in such a precarious situation it may be time to examine rebuilding strategies. It is obvious that certain rivers have radically insufficient stocks to repopulate rivers. In these rivers we must use the best available strategies to rebuild stocks